Afghan sol­dier kills 3 Bri­tons

shooter re­mains on the loose af­ter sec­ond such at­tack in eight months

Austin American-Statesman - - WEDNESDAYBRIEFING - By Deb Riechmann

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan sol­dier killed three Bri­tish ser­vice mem­bers with gun­fire and a rocket-pro­pelled grenade in the dead of night, a be­trayal that high­lights the dif­fi­cul­ties in rapidly build­ing up Afghan se­cu­rity forces so that for­eign troops can go home.

The sol­dier fled af­ter car­ry­ing out the at­tack in south­ern Afghanistan early Tues­day, leav­ing his mo­tive un­clear. But the Tal­iban claimed that he was a mil­i­tant sym­pa­thizer who was taken in by in­sur­gents af­ter the as­sault.

In London, Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron con­demned the killings as “ap­palling” but in­sisted the in­ci­dent shouldn’t change NATO’s strat­egy of work­ing along­side the Afghan army. Four other Bri­tish troops were wounded in the at­tack on a base in the Nahr-i-Saraj district of Hel­mand prov­ince that is home to mem­bers of the 1st Bat­tal­ion Royal Gurkha Ri­fles.

It was the sec­ond time in eight months that an Afghan turned against Bri­tish troops part­ner­ing with lo­cal se­cu­rity forces. In Novem­ber, an Afghan po­lice of­fi­cer killed five Bri­tish sol­diers at a check­point in Hel­mand.

Tues­day’s at­tack is likely to fur­ther dampen pub­lic back­ing for the war in Bri­tain, where sup­port has waned as ca­su­al­ties have risen sharply. In re­cent months, Bri­tish forces have en­dured some of the tough­est fight­ing of the nearly nineyear war in Hel­mand, a huge south­ern prov­ince that is the coun­try’s opium heart­land. The Afghan war has taken the lives of 317 Bri­tons.

Afghan po­lice in the past have also at­tacked U.S. sol­diers and even their own po­lice sta­tions, though such attacks are rare.

Still, Tues­day’s at­tack comes at a time when the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion is ramp­ing up train­ing of Af- ghan sol­diers and po­lice­men so they can ul­ti­mately take re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cur­ing and de­fend­ing the nation. The speed with which Afghan se­cu­rity forces are grow­ing — the al­lies set an in­terim goal of ex­pand­ing the Afghan army from 85,000 in 2009 to 134,000 troops by Oc­to­ber 2011 — has raised con­cerns about in­fil­tra­tion by the Tal­iban and the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the re­cruits.

It re­mained un­clear how long Tues­day’s at­tacker had been en­listed in the Afghan Na­tional Army, whether he plot­ted the as­sault with oth­ers and what mo­ti­vated him to carry out the killings — which Bri­tain’s Min­istry of De­fense called a “sus­pected pre­med­i­tated at­tack.”

Lt. Col. James Carr-Smith, spokesman for the coali­tion task force in Hel­mand prov­ince, said: “We be­lieve these were the ac­tions of a lone in­di­vid­ual who has be­trayed his NATO and Afghan com­rades. His where­abouts are cur­rently un­known, but we are mak­ing stren­u­ous ef­forts to find him.”

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